“Crooklyn” by The Crooklyn Dodgers (Special Ed, Masta Ace & Buckshot) (1994)

“Crooklyn” is one of the last classics of hip-hop’s golden age. Released in the spring of ‘94 for the soundtrack of the Spike Lee Joint Crooklyn, the song brought together three of Brooklyn’s best unsung emcees, Special Ed, Masta Ace (whose biggest commercial success was still ahead of him at the time of this song’s release) and Black Moon’s Buckshot Shorty. The track was produced by noted non-Brooklynite Q-Tip, who did a bang up job with a musical bed that was a little more hardcore than your average Tribe joint, but sill had enough musicality (piano, bass and drums–probably sampled but could just have easily been live) to identify it as coming from within a less hectic universe than, say, a Wu-Tang or Onyx record.

All three emcees bring their “A” games to this posse cut, darting back and forth between downcast violence (after all, this was Brooklyn in the early ‘90s and you never knew what was going to happen) and pop culture references, specifically timed to the early ‘70s period in which the film took place. Ace’s closing verse cleverly merges the two; as he imagines a world in which What’s Happening!?!’s Dwayne is selling crack to the Partridge Family, Mr. T gets robbed of all his gold jewelry and Chrissy from Three’s Company is a prostitute.

I think there’ll actually be a Black Moon joint or two somewhere on this list, but just in case there isn’t, I should stop and give props to Buckshot. He’s almost never mentioned on a list of most influential emcees, but a) Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was rocked just as hard as Enter The Wu-Tang on New York City blocks in late ‘93/early ‘94. Wu had the benefit of nine talented emcees, the charisma of those nine talented emcees, and a major label, so revisionist history has taken its course. Buck’s sing-songy rapping and his monotone narratives (not to mention Evil Dee’s excellent production) were reflected in later projects by Ill Al Skratch, the Lost Boyz, and definitely Mobb Deep. The Infamous would not have existed if not for Enta Da Stage.

Also, “Crooklyn” is the first of four songs on this list that come from Spike Lee films. That man’s early movies were good for at least one unforgettable song each.

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